Group pushes rights agenda

AN INTERNATIONAL group advocating human rights hopes the next Philippine president who will sit in June takes serious steps against rights abuses in the country in his first 100 days.

The Amnesty International (AI) has laid its five-point agenda for presidential candidates Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Grace Poe, Senator Merriam Defensor-Santiago, Vice President Jejomar Binay, and Mar Roxas.

The group wants the future leader to eliminate extrajudicial executions, unlawful arrests, secret detention, enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and prevention of the use of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism to justify human rights violations.

AI also wants the new head of state to establish control and accountability over the military, police and other state-sponsored forces, and ensure witness protection; ensure the safe and voluntary return of the displaced, and embed human rights protection in the peace process; make human rights a priority integrated across government bodies; and ratify key treaties on human rights and international humanitarian law.

Lawyer Romeo Cabarde Jr., AI Philippines vice chairperson, said the candidates who responded to their agendas were Poe, Santiago and Binay.

“Our human rights are under threat, facing serious danger,” he said.

Some of Binay’s promises are the assurance that the five-point agenda of AI will be given consideration and adoption.

Santiago wants to certify the passage of Freedom of Information (FOI) and Anti-Political Recommendations laws to end the “padrino system” in the military and police as urgent. Poe also wants the FOI law passed.

Cabarde said the future chief executive and other leaders should have political will and commitment to advance human rights in the Philippines.

The lawyer also criticized the administration of President Benigno Aquino III for his failure to stop the abuses committed by some government officials,
especially in the police and military forces.

Under the Aquino government since 2010, there are 438 cases of extra-judicial killings, 30 media killings and 122 torture incidents, Cabarde said.

The other unsolved killings involved judges and lawyers.

Cabarde also criticized the Aquino government for its bad response to the crises, like natural calamities (Yolanda).

“We are disappointed,” he said.

Guests

The other guests of the forum organized by AI Philippines yesterday morning were Chief Insp. Juan Alpuerto, the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 legal service officer-in-charge, and Leo Villarino, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) 7 investigation section officer-in-charge.

Alpuerto said they are investigating police officers who are accused of violating human rights.

“The PNP (Philippine National Police) does not tolerate, promote and condone human rights violations,” he said. “The PNP is not sleeping on its job.”

Alpuerto said there were 76 cops in 2015 charged with administrative complaints. They conducted 46 summary hearings and nine cases were dismissed.

The official said two cases are pending for resolutions and 50 cops were already penalized for their offenses, while four other cases are pending before the CHR 7.

Cases

For his part, Villarino said they entertained 347 complainants last year, but only 60 of them are regular cases, meaning the complaints that needed investigation.

He said most of the complaints are against police officers accused of physical injuries, unlawful arrests, tortures and other inhumane acts.

The agency is also investigating two extra-judicial killings in southern Cebu involving political groups. From January until March 30, CHR 7 received 10 “serious cases.”

Investigators are taking a long time to wrap up their inquiry and file charges against the respondents because some complainants and witnesses back out.

The other problem is the CHR 7’s lack of personnel. Villarino said they only have 10 investigators.

“We want to pursue a case that is strong in court,” Villarino said.

Cabarde said the Filipinos can turn the dismal state of human rights condition in the country by choosing the right leaders.

“We are not hopeless,” he said.

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